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Police arrest woman who started new life after escaping from prison in 1979

January 13, 2011 |  3:37 pm

Lanow.garces Nancy Garces was serving a sentence for credit card fraud when she escaped from a state prison nearly 32 years ago.

She was never heard from again -- until this week. Garces was arrested in Santa Barbara and returned to state prison, officials said.

Authorities picked her up after a tip that she was taking a train into the city from New Mexico, where she lived under the alias Lydia Mendez.

“We would like to commend the Santa Barbara Police Department for its prompt and efficient action in apprehending the escaped felon Nancy Garces,” said Michael Ruff, special agent in charge for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Office of Correctional Safety, Special Service Unit. “This is a message to all at-large felons that California law enforcement agents never give up when searching for fugitives.”

Garces arrived at the prison on Feb. 16, 1979, after being convicted in Butte County. According to prison officials, she escaped that May. A visitor had come that day, and officials assumed Garces went back to her cell afterward. But they discovered she was gone after a prisoner count hours later.

"It was determined that she went directly to her escape point and was able to scale a fence in the maintenance compound," officials said in the press release.

Prison guards searched the surrounding area but could not find her.

Officials did not provide information about what her life was like in New Mexico or whether she had a family.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Nancy Garces shown in a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation photograph taken in 1979.